INDIANAPOLIS -- Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema met with the media on Friday on the eve of the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here are a few highlights and notes from each coach's media session:
Pelini declined to name a starting center between Mark Pelini and Cole Pensick. Both competed for the job this week after Justin Jackson got hurt in the Iowa game. "You're going to see both of them," he said. " You're going to see a mix of guys that go through there both at the left guard spot, and the center spot."
Nebraska will also be without starting defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler, but Pelini isn't expecting any drop-off. "I feel like we have our full gamut, everything that we want, offensively, defensively at our disposal," he said. "And I have a lot of confidence in the guys that are going to be playing."
One plus on the health front: Pelini said running back Rex Burkhead, who returned last week in the second half at Iowa, is 100 percent healthy and that he "knocked the rust off" last week. For the first time since the Sept. 29 game against Wisconsin, Nebraska will have a healthy Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah ready to go in its backfield. "Having Rex back for us, I think, is big," he said. "We're going to have a whole other option there as far as somebody to carry the football. I think that will make Ameer that much more effective. "
The Huskers have some extra motivation to win their first conference championship since 1999. This is Tom Osborne's final year as athletic director, and taking him to the Rose Bowl would be a great sendoff. "It would be pretty special to be able to present Coach with a trophy," Pelini said. "It means a lot to me."
Pelini guaranteed that Nebraska fans would show up for Saturday's game, even though ticket sales have been sluggish. "I'm sure there will be a great atmosphere," he said. "I know Wisconsin travels well. Nebraska travels well. [But] I don't care if there are 10 people in the stands -- it's going to be a heck of a football game."
Linebacker Chris Borland, who missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who suffered a head injury late last week at Penn State, are both full go and have practiced since Wednesday, Bielema said. Getting Borland back will make a big difference. "He makes you a really good head coach in a short amount of time," Bielema said. "We were doing what was supposed to be a half‑speed kicking drill on Thursday. And No. 44 decided to go full speed, and was very disruptive, shall we say. Really good players make players in the huddle better around them. And No. 44's that kind of guy."
Wisconsin has experience in this game, but not starting quarterback Curt Phillips. The senior did not make the trip to Indianapolis last year as he was recovering from his third knee surgery. But Phillips got to go through Friday's walk-through at Lucas Oil Stadium (Nebraska declined to do a walk-through), and Phillips got a special extra treat at the Colts' home field. "He's a [Peyton] Manning fan growing up, so we put him in his [Manning's] locker," Bielema said. "What used to be his locker, we were told. Gave him his own spot there. He was like a king bee sitting in there today."
As the home team this year (the Legends team got the home designation last year), Wisconsin is enjoying the perks of having the Colts locker room. "It is different," Bielema said. "You walk into that pro locker room, and it's bigger. I've got a head coach's office in there, and I could bring 15 of my buddies and we could have a heck of a good time. There is more room in there than you could ever think of."
The Badgers have dealt with a lot of tough losses this year, including overtime defeats in three of their past four games. Bielema said this team deals with adversity as well as any group he's had. But the coaching staff still had to be cognizant of the players' mindset. "It's very important for us to not brow beat our guys," he said. "You have to be hard on them, but on the same account you can't lose them. We did some things in practice that curtailed that, but also just physically backed off them a little bit, to make sure you weren't taxing them, because everybody is human. You have a breaking point that's there."
Wisconsin would probably like to import some of the wind and cold that slowed down Nebraska's offense last week in Iowa City. Instead, the Huskers will play under perfect conditions indoors, and the turf play to the benefit of a speedy team. "It's very, very clear that they're probably one of the fastest teams, if not the fastest from A to Z, that we've played this year," Bielema said. "I tried to get them to put in a longer turf out there, but nobody bought into it. So we're going to play on the fast track out there. But we've got some speed, too. We've got some guys that can run. I think our guys are gassed up and ready to play."